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Full text of "Verdict On India"

HUNGER                                               199

politicians, British or Indian, that I am writing this chapter, but
to speak for the pitiful masses who, in the heat of local contro-
versy, were often almost forgotten.

n
Hunger is a cruel caricaturist.
It takes the slim body of a child and puffs out the stomach with
a single bloated line, till you will say that it was swollen with
phantom foods. Of all the tragic figures in Bengal none were
more poignant than the children. As they shuffled down the
streets their faces were like tight-stretched masks and their limbs
like withered twigs ; but always those grotesque stomachs swelled
out in front of them, as though in mockery of their plight.
This freakish effect of starvation was not to be seen in the adults ;
their stomachs were merely non-existent—patches of brown skin
stretched between the lower ribs and the thighs. But they too
bore all the marks of caricature ; they were like cartoons corne to
life. In, the past few years we have all seen posters illustrating the
plight of the oppressed peoples of Europe, we have become bitterly
familiar with drawings of skeleton mothers clasping dying children
in their arms, of young bodies shrunk to the bone, staring sight-
lessly at lurid skies. Well, Calcutta was like that. You kept saying
to yourself 'this is not life, this is bsome frightful pageant; and
surely, it is grossly overproduced. How can cheek-bones stick out
so sharply ? How can ribs be so bleakly defined ? How can
shoulders give that hideous effect of loose cloth draped over a
gaunt framework ?5
£No—this is not life, it is melodrama, and very crude melo-
drama too." So one reasoned. And indeed, no theatrical producer
would have dared pile on the horror so thick.
The rats, for example. Surely, if this had been a play or a film,
the rats would have been smaller ? As one stood under the arches
of Chowringhee, late at night, with the bodies of the destitute
4iuddled all around in attitudes of spectacular abandon- the rats
looked like great dogs, slinking about in the shadows. As the
weeks went by, and as the last remains of strength slowly ebbed